All posts tagged: Poetry

Surviving Grad School & the “Me too” Campaign & Weinstein & Literally Everything Else

Image Credit: torbakhopper cw: sexual assault After the countless hours I spent last year on sexual assault prevention techniques and safe/consensual sex seminars, I felt confident in my victimhood. For me, fighting against the systemic powers that reinforce toxic masculinity has changed the way I see my place in it all. From being a struggling, suicidal victim of sexual assault in my undergraduate years to my time as a workshop leader in “Writing Survival,” I have gotten to know myself as someone who is healing through helping. That is, until this year, until my first semester in graduate school. At first, I was sure that most of my stress was coming from the twenty-five-page paper or the in-class discussions where I always feel like a prick, or even living so far from East Tennessee, but it became a bit more apparent over time that maybe I wasn’t only reacting to natural stressors. I found myself—and still do regularly—falling into deep depressions for weeks at a time, holding onto what little reality I could, usually in …

On Reading Poetry and Poetry Readings

Do you read poetry out loud or in your head? Do you read so slowly you lose interest or so quickly you have motions sickness by the end of the poem? Is it okay to space-out during a reading? Are boredom and confusion acceptable experiences to have when, say, you read a poem that doesn’t stick, that slides right off your mind back onto the page? This semester, in Lisa Olstein’s seminar class on sixties poets, we’ve been reading a poetry collection weekly and discussing the effects they have on us as readers. Two poets we’ve read recently have taught me one thing: No one can tell you how to have an experience. My gratitude for this lesson goes out to John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin, and to their books, Rivers and Mountains and The Lice. Ashbery is notoriously difficult and polarizing in certain ways—a divide usually opening up between “I don’t get it” or “I don’t get why it matters.” I’ve loved Ashbery for years but also always felt myself space-out during his longer …

At What Point is Self-Care Toxic?

Image: Photo by Abby Breaking News: I figured out that graduate school is hard. At the point when this happened, I was facing around eleven of my classmates. I was to present an essay we read in my Contemporary African Lit. class. I had read this article maybe five times before I had a speech ready, and I was going to do this. But there was a block, and I started stumbling, and I turned red, and people jumped in to help me, and I was spiraling. Two people gave presentations after and killed it, too, so when I left I was ready to go home and eat leftovers and cry. As my friend drove me home I expressed how humiliated I had looked, and she promised it would get better. In fact, everyone has said that the first semester is very hard. They say: The first semester of graduate school is the hardest, and that’s not to say it gets easier. It doesn’t. You’ll just adjust to how difficult it is. So here I was, …

I Am Not My Personal Statement

Image: Lidyanne Aquino While I was applying to MFA poetry programs in late 2016- early 2017, I was simultaneously figuring out how to come out as non-binary. I was writing personal letters, bios, anything that described me, and they were slowly morphing into queer testimonies. I found that I was taking the application process a little too seriously, a little too defensively. I was refreshing my Gmail App almost every thirty minutes. I was butterflied, I felt, by the interrogation of personal statements and essay responses. I was trying to impress someone, and I was trying to be myself, and I didn’t believe myself. The University of Mississippi’s Derrick Harriell called me to offer me a TAship in his program. I wanted to say, “Are you sure? I’m not my personal statement.” In fact, each school that accepted me got a version of Jennie on the phone who I can’t defend. I was scared and guilty of having changed dramatically since I sent my personal statement. Yeah, sure, my resume hadn’t changed, and sure, my …

Uprooting

I’m lying on my couch, an air mattress, adjusting my elbows, which every few minutes scrub a crumb—probably KIND-brand cinnamon oat cluster granola. I was accepted into the Michener Center for Writers (after being accidentally rejected) in March and moved to Austin on August 9th, floating around for a month before landing a spacious apartment close to campus. But, in Austin, unless you want to live in one of those industrial, small-town-sized apartment complexes (you know, with a pool and visitor parking that’s never open anyway) you’re getting an unfurnished spot, and now that I have a real bed and felt too lazy to deflate this mattress, which was eight dollars at Wal-Mart, I have a couch, too. I was born in Puerto Rico and raised, mostly, in Orlando, Florida. My family is pretty much all Nuyorican, and the other side is all Cuban, all living in Miami since 1966, when they won “the lottery”—which is not 300 million dollars taxed at 82% but more like a get-out-of-Cuba-free card. But that was a long time …

Dazed and confused in the age of the MFA

Image: Mike Boening Some things you should know about me: The first time I left Miami I was 19. And I believed so then, with extreme certainty, that leaving the 305 was written in the stars for me. It was absolutely meant to be. And in retrospect, it was for good. I came back a year later with lots of great life experience under my belt: I blacked out from drinking whiskey, I blacked out from too much sangria, I made art that I was proud of at the time, and managed to overcome a depression I had been struggling with for almost two years. Some additional things you should know about me: The second time I left Miami was a month ago, and I’m still trying to figure out if it was for good. Partly because of how much I’m going to be in the hole after this, which is cause for concern, but also because I’ve just begun my graduate career at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The “MFA in …

Salutations & Pre-MFA Nerves

  Hello, dear MFA applicants, candidates, and curious others. By some lovely miracle, I’ll be joining the poetry cohort at the University of Virginia next week. I want to use this first post to reflect on my fears about beginning the program—to write them down before they are either confirmed or dispelled. Of course, I’m still dazed with delight about UVA. I feel like I’ve won the cosmic lottery, or gotten a late Hogwarts letter. I got into three different types of programs (Philosophy PhD programs and Divinity Schools) but the University of Virginia MFA is the one I pined over. They also notified last, so I had plenty of time to get my hopes up, then get blue about my inevitable rejection, then find myself looking up rentals in Charlottesville, then remind myself of the odds, and secretly hold feelings of inadequacy when friends got into incredible programs, and on, and on, and on. The feeling of being accepted was amazing—it almost hurt to feel so suddenly drained of worry and filled with wonder. …